Now, the Buddha says that nibbāna is something indescribable, but he will talk about it to some extent so that we’ll desire to go there.
To begin with, he says that it exists. This is unlike the case of the arahant, where he refuses to answer the question as to whether the arahant exists as a being. In fact, his refusal there is so thorough that he rules out all the possible answers to the question: that the arahant exists, doesn’t exist, both exists and doesn’t exist, or neither exists nor doesn’t exist.
That’s because beings are defined by their attachments, whereas arahants have no attachments, so you can’t define them. If you can’t define them, then you can’t describe them.
Nibbāna, though, is a state. States are not defined by attachments. They’re defined by whether they’re realities. The Buddha says that nibbāna is very much a reality—a reality with five main attributes.
• One, it is a type of consciousness. It’s not a blanking-out. It’s not consciousness in the aggregates, though. And because it’s beyond name and form, it’s not the consciousness found in the formless jhānas. It’s called consciousness without surface, a consciousness that, unlike the consciousness in the aggregates or in the jhānas, isn’t known through the six senses, including the sense of the mind.
The image is of a light beam that doesn’t land anywhere. If you had a light beam going through space and it didn’t land on any material object, you wouldn’t be able to see it because it wouldn’t be reflected. It’s through the reflections coming off of surfaces that we see light. But if it doesn’t land on anything—and that’s how the Buddha talks about it; he calls it consciousness that’s unestablished, a consciousness that doesn’t land—it’s bright in and of itself. But [because] it doesn’t appear as brightness to anything else, it can’t be located.
• Two, it is freedom. This is why the Buddha calls it nibbāna, or unbinding. As I said, it’s like a flame that’s been freed from its fuel.
• Three, it’s something true, unchanging, and undeceptive. Because it’s not conditioned, it’s just there. It doesn’t change at all.
• Four, for this reason, it’s a state of security and happiness. As the Buddha said, it’s the ultimate happiness.
• And five, it’s excellent, the ultimate, beyond anything else that could be found.
This reflection by Ajaan Geoff is from the 2021 Miscellaneous Essay, “The Three Perceptions.”